Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 19 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Memories

I'm getting rid of stuff. I've been unloading stuff, on and off, for about 6 months now. It began when I felt so low in late October, early November. In fact, donating a SAD light to my psychiatrist when I was incredibly low was the impetus which led to her hospitalizing me. (For those of you who don't know, one sign of imminent suicide is when a person begins giving stuff, especially stuff they value, away.) She was correct to hospitalize me, but that's beside the point.

I kept giving stuff away after my hospitalization. I donated 3 big boxes of household items to the Salvation Army in December. I also gave away a bunch of clothes to a local homeless charity. I filled the garbage can with a ton of other crap, too. It felt great!

I'm back at it. Over the last few days I've been de-cluttering and organizing my upper floor, which is essentially just storage space. This house, which I moved into 16 years ago, is about half the size of my previous home, which I shared with my ex, so I've got a lot of stuff up there. I cleared out much of what I had about 6-7 years ago, had a huge garage sale, and sold almost all of it. Nevertheless, there's still more stuff! I don't like stuff.

The problem with the remaining stuff is it's laden with emotion. I've got long-unopened boxes up there; memorabilia from my high school and college sports days, photos from long ago relationships, photos from a complicated childhood, and writing--lots of writing. I had to pause and take a deep breath just to open a few of those boxes.

Each box flooded me with different memories. Organizing the photos compelled remembering the moment captured in each of them. Or, and this happened a lot, too, wondering what or who the heck was in that picture? I relived memories of thrilling wins and painful losses from both high school and college, mulled over old relationships, and rehashed much from my complicated, not-always-happy childhood. The pictures and memorabilia brought up a lot of old emotions.

The writing, tucked neatly into two folders, conjured up more emotion than I was able to handle. After scanning a couple of poems and sketches (I forgot I used to sketch) I had to put it away. I had barely scratched the surface, but I knew if I continued I would have become overwhelmed.

I began writing at age 15, which is when my first depressive episode began. That depression, which lasted through the end of high school, is documented in those folders upstairs. I kept writing through college and beyond, but usually only when times were tough. I have several legal pads filled with writing, a hand-written blog, I guess. I couldn't have handled reading it yesterday. Just finding it set me back a bit. It's now neatly tucked inside it's new and improved plastic bin. I plan to get it out again one day. I would like to read it, but now is not the time.

I've got a bit more to do upstairs, a few more memories to unpack. I think the most heavy remembering is done. I'll be very satisfied when I'm finished, when everything is neatly organized and in its place, and when I will no longer have to relive the saga that has been my life. I prefer to look forward rather than back.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Miracle?

Maybe it was the cold wind on my face. Maybe it was my heart beat decelerating, palpable in my chest, after just ducking out of a strapping headwind. Or perhaps it was the stillness of the monochromatic woods, sunshine beaming through leaf-less trees, as I whirred along on my bike. I'm not sure why it occurred right there, suddenly, at that precise moment Monday afternoon, in those woods 2 miles from my home, but it did. Like a shock from beyond I realized, "I feel better."

Probably it occurred because I felt joy. At that moment I was enjoying my bike ride. Rather than just doing, I was feeling. I may have even said it out loud, "I feel better."

Miracle is a strong word. What works for one may not work for another, and previous success doesn't guarantee future success. However, that moment Monday afternoon, a few hours after my third ketamine treatment, continues to feel miraculous. Ketamine, for me, has been a miracle.

As it did in 2017, ketamine once again yanked me back from the edge of the cliff just as I was beginning my forward lean. It's unfortunate I had to endure hours of frigid darkness and cold contemplation, staring into the abyss, prior to the ketamine lasso. But as it was in 2017, that's the reality today. It's beyond unfortunate.

I feel better. The reality of the limited availability and expense of ketamine will perhaps be debated in a future post but not today. Today I'm just going to be. I'm focusing on feeling. Joy is nice. Gratitude is nice. But even anger, sadness or fear would be okay. I'm so relieved to be feeling. I'm grateful to be feeling. I'm feeling again. That is a miracle.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Ketamine and Hip Update

It's been a long week. As are many of you, I am spending days upon days alone in my house. That very real isolation, combined with my inability to partake in my typical active coping skills, no walking, biking, hiking, or running, has made this episode of depression incredibly difficult. That being said, I am feeling a little bit of hope and relief right now.

I'm relieved because I began my ketamine treatment protocol at Mayo with two infusions this week. Each infusion takes 40 minutes, but it's about a 2 hour process in total. I had my first infusion on Tuesday and the second one yesterday. I felt a little more spacey, the most common side effect, during each infusion than I felt during my previous treatments in 2017 and 2019, but I think my mood is already improved today. I'm hopeful that continues. My third treatment will be Monday.

Today I had my weekly post-op follow-up visit with my physical therapist. My low mood and fatigue have impacted my right hip recovery, as I've been less motivated/willing/able to complete my required daily exercises. Over the last several days I've also had an uptick in my hip pain and a decrease in my range of motion. Worries about my hip have not helped my mood.

My physical therapist has been a savior. Out of necessity I have been honest about my depression and current battle with my mood. She's been compassionate, understanding, and willing to reassure me time and time again. Today she patiently and repeatedly reassured me that I'm doing okay, progressing well, and will return to competitive running. And that was after she skillfully worked on me for 45 minutes to improve my hip mobility and decrease my pain. The glacial pace of this recovery has been so challenging. I'm grateful I have a wonderful physical therapist to support me and keep me moving forward.

I hope to keep moving forward over the weekend. I want to get outside, maybe ride my ElliptiGo, which will hopefully boost my mood and strengthen my hip at the same time. I'm trying to keep looking ahead, which is more than I was able to do even a few days ago. One day at a time. One step at a time. I need to keep moving if I have any hope of getting my life back. And I'd really like to get my life back.

Monday, April 13, 2020

I heard it

I heard a sentence. One year ago. I was lying in my hospital bed. The depression which had deposited me there showed no sign of release. A hostage, I was, to my very own brain. And then the sentence. Out of the blue, clear as day, I heard the words. Those words, that sentence frightened me then, so I wrote about the experience. It's a lot less frightening now. It just is.


Tough day.
Tough day.
Again.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Sad about Jet

It's been a tough day. For the last 8 or 9 months I had an inkling that Jet's eyesight wasn't great. First his eyes began to look a little cloudy. Over the summer, especially around the 4th of July, he quit going to his safe space in the basement when he was scared. He'd get halfway down the steps and then just stop and stand there. After a bit he'd turn around and come back up. But he was still scared, so he'd do this again and again. I wondered if it was because it was dark, so I put a light at the bottom of the stairs. He began going all the way down the stairs after that.

Early yesterday morning he flew out the door into the backyard as he always does when I let him out. A bunny ran right past him, and for the first time ever he didn't charge after it. I could tell he knew it was there, but he just stood there looking around. The bunny stopped on the other side of the yard. When Jet finally located it, he charged. He was on it's tail until the bunny made a quick move to one side. Jet lost him. The bunny was still running away from Jet, but he couldn't seem to locate him. I was crushed.

Today my vet confirmed my fear. Jet is losing his sight. He has a condition called Progressive Retinal Degeneration. The blood vessels which bring circulation to his retinas are shriveling up. He is losing his sight. There is no cure. He will go blind, and that may happen sooner rather than later. He's only seven and a half years old. I know it's not the end of the world, but I am so sad.

I'm sad because I want my boy to have the highest quality of life possible. I want him to run with me, hike with me, and play with me as he wishes. And I especially want him to feel safe and comfortable in his home.

I'm afraid he's already less comfortable in his home. For the last week, every night when I turn out the lights and go to bed, Jet has been standing uncomfortably in my bedroom doorway. Just standing. He usually sleeps in his bed in the living room, but lately I've had to convince him to go to his bed and lie down. I even escorted him there one night, as he just didn't seem to know what to do. He was kind of stuck standing in my doorway.

I already have a light on in the living room, but I guess I may need to add more lights throughout the house. He's never been interested in coming into my bedroom, but I may add a bed in there, too, in case that's changed. He's an anxious dog to begin with. I fear losing his sight isn't going to help.

So I'm sad today. Like I said, I know it's not the end of the world. He's otherwise very healthy. Going blind is not likely to shorten his lifespan. Nevertheless this was a tough thing to hear. I feel like I have so little resilience right now, barely keeping my head above water, so handling another hit has been challenging. Prayers for Jet. And in case you need encouragement, just look at that face!

Love you, Buddy.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Baby steps

I'm feeling a little bit better today. And you, the readers of this blog, had something to do with it. In addition to the support of my friends and professionals, this blog, specifically your comments, helped me immensely the last few days. All I can say is thank you.

I appreciate all who took time to reach out after my last 2 posts. Your comments made a difference. You told me your stories. You decreased my hopelessness and isolation. You reminded me depression is a vicious liar! You told me I mattered. I am grateful. I am humbled. Thank you.

I've also taken some concrete steps which I think have helped my mood a bit. A few days ago, with little to no forethought, I emailed a Mayo doctor to inquire about Ketamine. If you've been reading for awhile you know I participated in a clinical trial of Ketamine in the Fall of 2017 which saved my life. It also kept me from another depression relapse for 18 months! It was a miracle.

Unfortunately, you may also recall I had a disastrous experience with poorly managed Ketamine infusions one year ago. Maybe the 2019 disastrous experience explains why I didn't think of Ketamine prior to the moment I composed that email a few days ago. The email was simple. I wrote, "What if anything are you doing with Ketamine now?" That was it. I hit send and awaited a response.

I was still waiting when I wrote my last post. Friday morning the response I got was was positive but vague. The doctor stated Mayo was still offering Ketamine infusions, but appointments were limited and difficult to schedule. She said she was holding an appointment for me, then 11 days away, and would wait to hear back from me. I hung my head in disappointment. She had basically just confirmed I was about to experience exactly what I experienced one year ago.

I hoped I was wrong, however, so I wrote back and asked her what Ketamine infusion protocol they were currently using. You see, the problem last year was the inpatient doctor didn't follow the 2017 clinical trial protocol. Appointments were scheduled one at a time and haphazardly. That didn't work. It led to more hopelessness rather than less, and it was incredibly frustrating and stressful. There was no reason to put myself through that again. I was crestfallen.

Fortunately the disappointment I felt quickly turned into irritation, and that motivated me to take further action. I called my psychiatrist. She agreed to research nearby (the nearest are 85-90 miles away) Ketamine clinics and made some phone calls on my behalf.

I also reached out to the research assistant and lead researcher from the 2017 clinical trial. I wanted to ask them for the exact clinical trial protocol which had saved my life. I needed it if we were going to have to seek treatment at one of the clinics my psychiatrist was researching.

The lead researcher, a psychiatrist who now lives and works at Mayo in another state, called back within an hour. I was so relieved. He's an empathetic, detailed, upstanding doctor who always treated me with compassion and respect. I was happy to talk with him again.

He eagerly provided the clinical protocol after I briefed him about my situation. In addition, unbeknownst to me, he took the extra step of documenting our conversation in my medical record; the same medical record the local Ketamine psychiatrist would be reviewing. I believe that extra step made the difference.

Several hours later, after my psychiatrist and I had taken steps to get my treatment initiated elsewhere, the local Mayo doc sent me a message stating she had seen the research psychiatrist's note in my chart. She then offered me 7 appointments which exactly followed the 2017 clinical trial protocol. I couldn't accept the proposed schedule fast enough. After I agreed to her plan I called my psychiatrist. We are both so grateful. I begin Ketamine infusions at Mayo Clinic, only 2 miles away, on April 14th.

But wait! That's not even the big news...

I walked today. Outside. With Jet. All the way around the block! I haven't walked more than an uncomfortable, painful two blocks since my right hip surgery 10+ weeks ago. I'm not allowed to do anything which increases my pain, and on my previous attempts my pain always increased. Today my pain didn't increase. I wasn't fast. It wasn't pretty. But I walked 0.42 miles. Outside. In the sunshine. With my dog. Hope...

Thursday, April 2, 2020

My dilemma

When I feel very, very low I struggle with what to write here. That's the case today. I have plenty of material. I've been writing up a storm. I'm just not sure much, if any of what I've already written should be put out for a larger audience, especially for those of you who regularly come here (my humble little blog) to visit. I want to be real, but sometimes I fear real may be too much.

I have a dilemma. Right now I think real may be too much. I began this blog to educate people about depression, and being real certainly does that. But I also think readers come here looking for (and hopefully finding) strength, courage, hope and gratitude. If I published some of what I've recently written, I don't think readers would leave here feeling any of those positive things. Likewise, I don't want people leaving feeling worse or worrying about me. So I have a dilemma.

(That being said, I am going to be talking about suicide in this post. Please stop reading now if that triggers or bothers you.)

This illness sucks, and right now it's ripping me to shreds. To shreds... I'm bouncing between barely being able to move and anxiety-fueled purposeless gyrations. I'm sleeping too much and then too little. Barely having the energy or will to move out-paces the anxiety-fueled gyrations by far, but neither reality feels good. Neither option allows me to live my life. I'm hurting, and I'm tired.

In the midst of this current state I've been contemplating life. I've been having long discussions about suicide with my close friends, my doctor and my social worker. I'm so grateful I have 2 friends and 2 professionals who are willing to let me talk despite the subject matter. I know they are scared and concerned, but they've been willing to walk with me rather than fight me. I'm so lucky. And so grateful.

Something happened 4 or 5 days ago. I heard an old hymn for the first time, and it became the fuel for these in depth discussions with my friends, doctor and social worker. The hymn, "It is Well with my Soul," was posted by a friend on Facebook, ironically the same friend who so offended me with her Facebook post just a few weeks ago. This hymn affected me. It spoke to me. It comforted me.

I don't usually listen to or find comfort in contemporary Christian music. Yet despite, or maybe because of the depth of my despair this song continues to comfort me. I can barely stop listening to it. Ironically, however, it's a hymn which brings me to a place of peace and acceptance with suicide. I now know that whatever happens I'll be okay. I am okay.

Please know this is not a suicide note. I'm also not advocating for suicide. If I were a friend of mine or a professional dealing with a client, I'd be doing the same things my friends, doctor and social worker are currently doing. They're concerned but they're listening. They're understanding where I'm at, supporting me, encouraging me, but certainly not giving me permission to end my fight. And I'm not ending it today.

I don't feel well. I'm contemplating suicide. But despite my pain, I'm spiritually okay. Since internalizing this hymn I feel less struggle. I'm still fighting to get past this relapse, pummel depression into submission and get back to living my life. But if I don't, I'm okay. I am well within my soul today.



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